Some Filipinos questioned the national government’s preference to procure millions of COVID-19 vaccine doses from Sinovac Biotech despite its low efficacy rate, while some local government units have eyed deals with other vaccine-makers that are cheaper and have higher efficacy rates.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III on Sunday announced that the Philippines secured 25 million doses from the Beijing-based pharmaceutical firm and that the initial batch will arrive by February.
The rest of the batches are expected to arrive until the end of 2021, to complement the orders from another pharmaceutical firm, AstraZeneca.
“We sealed the deal with Sinovac for 25 million with early 50,000 doses by February, 950,000 by March and 2 to 3 million in succeeding months ’til December with 25 million doses. This is in addition to AstraZeneca as confirmed by Sec. Galvez,” Duque said to GMA’s “24 Oras Weekend.”
Secretary Carlito Galvez, vaccine czar and COVID-19 chief policy implementer, on Wednesday said that advanced stages of negotiations on the vaccines are ongoing with various firms, including US’ Novavax, Pfizer, Johnson&Johnson, China’s Sinovac, Russia’s Gamaleya and the United Kingdom’s AstraZeneca.
On the other hand, several LGUs have announced their intention to secure doses from AstraZeneca. These include the cities of Quezon, Manila, Makati, Muntinlupa Navotas, Caloocan, San Juan, Taguig, Vigan, Valenzuela, Baguio, Pasig, Davao, Bacolod and the province of Iloilo.
Some of the localities mentioned also plan to sign deals with other vaccine manufacturers.
Demand for explanation
Meanwhile, as some concerned Filipinos compare some LGUs’ preference for the non-China vaccines and the national government’s procurement of Sinovac, they also sought explanation why the latter chose the COVID-19 vaccines from China.
“Buti pa ang Pasig at Iloilo. Si Duque, Sinovac?? Despite all the controversies, the cost and efficacy of the vaccine!!!” a Twitter user said in response to the reports.
“The LGUs signed a deal with Aztra Zeneca, yet DOH pushed through with Sinovac? Sinovac is more expensive and there’s no transparent data yet regarding its efficacy and adverse events profile. Why? You owe the public an explanation,” a Twitter user from the medical field said.
“LGUs are getting the vaccine from AZ (AstraZeneca), tapos ang national gov’t sa Sinovac? Paki explain..” shared another online user.
Their sentiments were echoed by Sen. Ping Lacson and Dr. Tony Lechon, former special adviser to the National Task Force against COVID-19, who were both doubtful of the national government’s COVID-19 vaccine procurement and plans.
“Gusto natin malaman, may hinihintay ba sila particular brand? Parang may announcement ngayon ang hinihintay ay Sinovac,” Lacson said in an interview with a news outlet.
“Ang tanong, ano ba ang special sa Sinovac? Bakit ‘yun ang parang hinihintay natin? Dini-dribble natin ‘yung iba?” he added.
Leachon cited a Washington Post article dated Dec. 4, 2020, which said that “some medical experts say that extra scrutiny of Sinovac’s drug claims is justified, given its record of moral flexibility.”
“How do we justify government’s order of Sinovac, which is less efficacious 50 %, more expensive vs. Pfizer‘s 95% efficacy rate and Astra 70-90 % efficacy rate? It would be interesting to know the selection guidelines,” he tweeted.
As of Monday, Galvez said that the country is looking at six COVID-19 vaccines that have emergency-use authorization abroad. These are Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Sinopharm, Sinovac and Gamaleya.
“Ang strategic communication plan is not just giving information. It’s selling the truth. That’s what I do,” Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also said in response to the administration’s confidence about Sinovac’s vaccines.
A peek at AstraZeneca, Sinovac
AstraZeneca is reported to be 90% effective when first given as a half dose, followed by a full dose a month later. It has an efficacy rate of 70% on average.
Preliminary results from its phase two trials published in medical journal The Lancet last November showed that it also produced strong immune responses across all adult age groups, including older adults or seniors.
Science News likewise said that the vaccine “cuts transmission of the virus by reducing the number of asymptomatic infections, the vaccine developers reported.”
AstraZeneca’s vaccines can also be stored in temperatures found in regular refrigerators, cutting the need for specialized freezers required by other vaccines.
Based on the projected prices of the COVID-19 vaccines released by Sen. Sonny Angara‘s office, the Senate Committee on Finance chair, AstraZeneca’s vaccine is worth P610 for two doses.
Meanwhile, Sinovac’s COVID-19 vaccine was reported to be 78% effective, according to the results of its phase three clinical trials in Brazil.
But Science Magazine reported that based on the words of the Butantan Institute head in a formal presentation, the efficacy rate “would equal 63%.”
The institute is a state-owned vaccine-maker co-sponsoring the trial.
Preliminary results from Sinovac’s early trials published The Lancet last November showed its vaccine was safe but only produced a moderate immune response.
The antibodies detected were lower compared to patients who have recovered from the virus and have produced their own antibodies.
Based on the projected prices by Angara’s office, Sinovac would cost P3,629.50 for two doses.
In November, concerned Filipinos reminded the national government to be wary of the Sinovac COVID-19 vaccine, citing its efficacy and lack of clinical trials.
The latest survey of Pulse Asia released Thursday showed that only 32% of the 2,400 respondents are willing to be vaccinated should a COVID-19 jab be made available in the country.
Most respondents expressed concerns about COVID-19 vaccine’s safety.